Dorothy Cannell: I was sitting at an airport waiting for my connecting flight when I heard the person in the seat beside me talking directly into my ear. That’s how it sounded, although when I looked up I saw it was woman on her cell phone. What she had said caught my attention.
“A five year old deciding whether he’d go to school or not. A child of his age,” heroutraged voice shot up with each syllable, “staging that kind of rebellion and being allowed to get away with it! A period of isolation was clearly in order!” A pause as whoever she was talking to replied. Then a self-congratulatory grunt. “No, after that little trauma things went reasonably well.”
Had the book I was reading been David Copperfield or Oliver Twist I’d have wondered if I dozed momentarily and found myself in the world where mistreatment of children was rejoiced in as a righteous prerogative. A period of isolation. That sounded more like days locked into a room on bread and water rather than fifteen minutes in time out.
Who was this woman? One of those TV reality series super nannies brought in to restore calm to the family home where the offspring swung from the light fixtures, flung themselves on the floor and beat their feet like drums, or drove the car out of the garage to make clear they really were running away from home? I took a look at her harsh profile and decided she would never have acquired her Mary Poppins certificate. A truant officer, fifty years overdue for retirement? I settled on that – even a pack of Dobermans and a Condemned Notice attached to the house could not keep her out. The sort where discussions occur beforehand such as:
“I know she’s your mother, and you’re not to blame for that, but can’t you have a heart attack and die five minutes after she marches in? Surely she’d take that as a hint this is not a good time. Oh, hell! That won’t work. She’d stay to arrange the funeral and then never leave.
“Don’t ask me to be nice to your sister. She’d decide I was currying favor out of a massive inferiority complex and bring in a psychiatrist, who’d go along with the insistence that I’m a danger to myself and others.
“Why don’t we pack up what we need, including the kids, in a couple of suitcase and run away to some deserted Pacific Island? I know, dear, I hate endless sunshine, blue seas and sand, but anything is better than having her rant on about my not eating the raisins in my bran flakes and how if I were her husband I wouldn’t be allowed to go to work until I did.”
She reached down for her carry-on and marched purposefully out of eyesight when a boarding call was announced. I was left wondering about a five-year-old boy who didn’t always want to go to school and as a result brought down the ire of that awful woman. That’s how I thought of her, although if taken as a whole – instead of a snippet of overheard conversation – she could be a pleasant person who happened to be travel-fatigued and overstating what was on her mind. But I would never know her or that little boy. All I was borrowing from reality was a couple of lines of dialog, which is why I could let my imagination roam uncluttered.
What was her relationship to the child?
How would the memory of that incident impact him as an adult?
How far might he go in taking revenge?
I have already written a scene in which a man tells the police this story in hope they will view her as a suspect in the crime being investigated.